I haven’t had a lot of time to post in recent months because work and life have been so busy. I hope to share some posts about the highlights of recent months because Spencer has been going through some really interesting developmental phases.
Today, though, I just want to say how proud I am of his performance on today’s walk. Between the weather, my heavy workload and Greg’s knee sprain, Spencer hasn’t has as many — or as long — walks as he would like recently. So this morning, I pretty much let him decide where he wanted to go. As you can see from this map, it was pretty long. But I can’t figure out how to measure the distance. I couldn’t even figure out how to get Google to let me show it as a single itinerary. For some reason, I had to put three itineraries together. This seems needlessly clunky. But I digress.
At one point in our walk (just above the letter A on the right-hand side) we passed through a major intersection at rush hour on market morning. There were people coming from all directions, waiting to cross busy roads and coming off buses in hordes. There were other dogs on leashes, baby carriages and all sorts of potentially threatening things and people.
And Spencer dealt with it all with perfect calm. He stayed by my side, observed, executed my directions, and oriented towards me for reassurance whenever he was unsure if he should be worried or not. It took us about 15 minutes to navigate a safe route through the crowd that wouldn’t put him in a difficult push and push him over threshold, but we managed.
I’m sure it helped that this was towards the end of our walk, and he has expended all hiss nervous energy. At the beginning of the walk when he was chomping at the bit, I doubt it would have been quite so easy, but this shows how much progress he has made thanks to counter-conditioning, BAT and our learning how to communicate with one another. (And Irène had a lot to do with our progress, so if you’re looking for a trainer in Paris, consider her.)
This morning was one of those we-have-come-so-far walks.
Whenever we have to go around a blind corner, I call Spencer to my side, prepare a treat just in case, try to peer through fences and bushes and prepare to react if we are surprised by someone. This morning, I thought I had a good view around the first corner we encountered, but when we turned it, there was a young boy, too short to be seen through the break in the fence and bushes. I calmly asked Spencer to do a u-turn and cross, which he executed without hesitation while the boy called a friendly “Bonjour!” after us. Continue reading
As Spencer started to show significant progress this past winter and spring, we made the resolution to use this summer to socialize him as much as possible. It’s easier in summer because the days are longer, providing better conditions for walks, and we can have visitors in the garden, which is less stressful for both the people and the dog.
Based on the results, I’d say it’s paying off immensely. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating by saying that Spencer is making progress everyday. There are many signs: Continue reading
I’ve mentioned Spencer’s interest in cats before. He’s never gotten completely close to one yet, but based on his body language and progress, we’re pretty sure that if he could get close to a cooperative cat, he’d just be curious and want to play with it. The problem is when the cat is hostile (often triggering tension that can bubble over into aggression) or runs away (triggering his instinct to chase) or is inaccessible behind a fence (which can lead to frustration building up and bubbling over). We’ve noticed the same thing with the hedgehog. When he catches it, he just plays with it or tries to store it in his crate like a treasure. When it’s on the other side of the fence, he gets frustrated and goes into a non-stop barking spree. Continue reading
I mentioned in a previous article how adventurous Spencer is getting. So our walks are not only in a greater variety of places, but we we don’t always have to go at times when no one else is out. Nonetheless, there are limits to what Spencer can handle, and they don’t always seem predictable. One of the many challenges of reactive dogs is that they may seem OK with a trigger one day and then react to it the next. At first glance, this seems to be totally unpredictable. But as you gain knowledge and observational skill, you can usual work out that what is really going on is a case of “trigger stacking.” Continue reading
A seriously cute bat-kitten borrowed from Catmoji.com
I previously mentioned the BAT protocol, which basically helps the dog learn how to make good decisions about strange, new things. It’s all about understanding that once a dog gets too close to something scary (or something they want to play with), if they don’t have good social and decision-making skills, they get sucked in by what BAT-developer Grisha Stewart calls the Magnet Effect. One of the basic principles of BAT is to keep the dog at a distance that prevents the Magnet Effect, doesn’t trigger a reaction and yet is close enough that the dog can gather information about the new thing. Continue reading
There are times I wish we were being followed around by a video crew. I’m so busy managing Spencer and his potential reactions to the world around him that I miss many great photo and video ops.
A few days ago, we were out for a walk and were on a new street, which means Spencer didn’t yet know which gardens contained cats or which had either friendly or scary, barking dogs.
We had just walked by a yard with a truly scary dog. I don’t worry about most of the dogs we pass because yards are surrounded by very high fences here. Poor Spencer gets stressed by being yelled at by strange dogs who are outraged that we are passing their property. (He doesn’t bark at other dogs across fences, just people.) Anyway, when I heard this dog barking aggressively behind its gate, I didn’t worry until I heard a scraping noise and saw that he had figured out there is a gap under the gate big enough for his head. Angry eyes were flashing and jaws snapping at our ankles as we passed. Being as socially inept as usual, Spencer put his nose down to sniff the other dog and nearly got his snout bitten off. He leapt away whining, so we moved on. Continue reading